A true history of industrial technology and innovation must factor in the history of labor and skill required to make a specific product. Mainstream perspectives on industrialization in Britain's cotton industry view technological change in spinning as motivated by productivity gains, facilitated by the fortuitous availability of high-quality, long-staple cotton. However, material evidence shows British cotton textiles advanced to match Indian cloth quality, suggesting that spinning machinery also evolved apace to achieve product quality. This article demonstrates that alongside the cotton staple, the spinner's skill and dexterity determined final cloth quality. The three main spinning machines were technically path dependent, with mechanized spinning of fine cotton based on the original Indian jersey wheel technology. Technological innovations mainly focused on improving product quality, with mechanization a means to bridge the British skill gap in cotton spinning. Histories of labor and skill are therefore at the heart of innovation.